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CropTalk: Talking Corn Quality Traits

February 2020

Published on Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Commodities are either fungible, meaning that they are traded as a class on one market price, or non-fungible, meaning they are traded based on specific quality measures for each unit. Corn is the quintessential fungible commodity – a bushel of corn is a bushel of corn, and corn from Missouri isn’t any different from corn in Ohio, apart from the local cash basis price. Most corn grown in the U.S. is used for fuel or feed; only about 19% of the U.S. crop is used for food. Confused about the difference between food and feed? Well, feed is the food you feed food. Food-grade corn is consumable by humans; it is grown under contract from specific buyers. There are two main types of food-grade corn sold by Beck’s: hard endosperm, and waxy.

Hard endosperm hybrids are members of our regular, high-yielding corn lineup that happen to have a relatively higher amount of hard endosperm versus floury endosperm in the kernel. There’s no way to physically look at a plant to distinguish it, but buyers (millers and baking companies) approve specific hybrids for their lists. A specific subset of hard endosperm corn is used in the production of masa flour. Masa flour goes into corn chips and tortillas. Beck’s has about 20 hybrids that are included on hard endosperm or masa lists for various buyers.

Waxy corn contains a high proportion (generally close to 99%) of a specific type of starch called amylopectin, versus a typical corn hybrid with only 75% amylopectin. Amylopectin lends an adhesive-like property to foods and is used as a thickening agent in everything from gravy to the filling for pastries. The flour of waxy corn can also be used in several industrial processes, including starch and silicon gel production.

About 60% of U.S. waxy corn is produced and processed in the state of Indiana. There are also markets in Iowa, Missouri, and along the Mississippi River for exports bound for Japan or the Philippines. In the last five years, the industry has shifted from about half non- GMO to nearly 90% of waxy hybrids not containing biotech traits.

Waxy is a recessive trait, meaning that both of the inbred parents must carry the waxy gene to produce a waxy corn hybrid. The Beck’s trait introgression team is efficient at taking high-yielding hybrids from our commercial lineup and converting them to waxy versions using our genetic marker lab and greenhouses in Atlanta, IN.



For the farmer, managing hard endosperm or waxy hybrids is identical to managing any other corn crop for high yields – the real differences come in harvest and grain storage. Combine set up and harvest timing are key, because to satisfy a food-grade contract, the grain must be intact with minimal broken or cracked kernels. Grain separation and good storage conditions are also integral because the grain moves on the buyer’s call. In exchange for the quality parameters and extra grain management, buyers pay a premium ranging from $0.25 to $0.75/Bu. Waxy hybrids typically yield about 5% to 8% lower than their conventional starch versions, but the premium compensates for the yield difference.

Beck’s is a major player in the specialty corn market, providing approximately 35% of U.S. waxy corn seed. Trek Murray leads the effort by ensuring that our hybrids are on the approved lists for buyers and supporting customers with any questions about products, premiums, or markets. Trek says, “Growers who enter these programs tend to stay long-term because there is real value there. If you’re interested in securing a grower contract, reach out to your local buyers, and stay in touch. Typically, the contracts are filled from October through February, but if you stay in communication, opportunities periodically open up.”

If you have questions about premium markets in your area or want to learn more about the Beck’s value-added corn lineup, reach out to Trek Murray at 317.984.1102 or

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Samantha Miller

Samantha Miller

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